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Matsuyama Vies For Third Asian Am

Though the Asian Amateur Golf Cham¬pionship is about to be played for only the fourth time, at the Amata Spring Country Club in Chonburi, Thailand, this week, the nascent event already has quite a history. At least as far as 20-year-old Hideki Mat¬suyama is concerned. Twice, the Japanese college student has entered the competi¬tion, and twice he has emerged as the winner. Those feats not only catapulted him into the upper reaches of the World Amateur Golf Rankings but also gave Mat¬suyama the chance to play in The Masters each of the last two years.
A student at Tohoku Fukushi University in Sendai, he took good advantage of those opportunities, making the cut at Augusta National both times and winning the cov¬eted Silver Cup for being low amateur in 2011 as he finished tied for 27th with Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar and Ian Poulter among others. All in all, it has been an impressive run for Matsuyama, who went on to win a tournament on the Japan Golf Tour after last year’s Asian Am and was ranked for a spell as the No. 1 amateur player in the world.
It also means that it’s no surprise he is among the favorites to win this year’s Asian Am.
What that tournament might lack in legacy is more than compensated by the increasing quality of its field and the prizes that await the victor: entry to the International Final Qualifying for the Open Championship and an invite to The Mas¬ters. Winning it once is an accomplishment enough. But coming out on top twice is remarkable, and the fact that Matsuyama has been able to do that says a lot about his talent as well as his determination.
He spoke to that last attribute as he reflected at last year’s Masters on his first Augusta experience.
“I had a strong feeling of wanting to come back to The Masters when I played in my second Asian Amateur,” Mat¬suyama said. “So from the very first day (of that tournament), I was very focused on my game.”
Matsuyama has demonstrated good focus throughout his young career. Taking his first Asian Am, in 2010 at the Kasumi¬gaseki Country Club outside Tokyo, was evidence of that. Even more impressive, however, was his performance at his first Masters the following spring. That came just one month after a hurricane and tsu¬nami ravaged his homeland, killing thou¬sands of people. Though Matsuyama was out of the country at the time, he returned to Japan to find his college dorm trashed and the city of Sendai devastated. Mat¬suyama thought about staying home, but then decided to make the trip to Augusta.
“The people at my university who have suffered, and my teammates and parents who made me start the sport of golf have been supportive, so I decided to play The Masters, not only for myself but for the people who have made me who I am,” he said shortly after arriving at the club in April 2011. “The Masters, which has been my dream, is their dream, as well. Doing my best here is my obligation to them. I can only try and concentrate on golf, and hope that by playing well, I can encourage people back home.”
By his own admission, he played that first Masters with a very heavy heart. But he never seemed to affect his play. After becoming the only amateur to make the cut, Matsuyama shot a 4-under-par 68 the third day of the 2011 tournament. After posting a 74 on Sunday, he ended up with a 72-hole score of 287, which was 1-under par. It was the fourth lowest score for an amateur in Masters history.
Just under six feet tall and weighing a reedy 170 lbs., Matsuyama did not do quite as well in his second Masters. To be sure, he made the cut again and was only 1 over after three rounds in the 2012 event, and tied at that point with Rory McIlroy, Miguel Angel Jimenez and Geoff Ogilvy. But the taciturn Japanese player struggled on the last day, carding a disappointing 80 and finished two behind Patrick Cantlay in the competition for low amateur. Matsuyama had to settle instead for the Silver Medal for low amateur runner-up.
Matsuyama describes playing in The Masters as the biggest achievements in his golfing career. And though he has already been able to make the trip to Augusta twice as a competitor, he shows no signs of being any less excited about doing so again.
“I am really looking forward to win¬ning again this time in Thailand,” he says, knowing a win there gets him back to The Masters for a third straight year.
Given the way he has played the past couple of years, there’s no reason not to think he can pull it off.


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